College Students Run Into Problems Applying for Federal Financial Aid - NBC4 Washington
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College Students Run Into Problems Applying for Federal Financial Aid

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Consumer Reporter Susan Hogan uncovered numerous problems for students applying for federal financial aid. (Published Tuesday, March 21, 2017)

    Students applying for federal financial aid right now may be running into problems.

    Without warning March 3, the IRS removed a vital tool from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website: The data retrieval tool, which locates tax information.

    “Well, the data retrieval tool, especially since we went to prior prior, which means you're going two years back for your tax information, made it so easy for families because you just link to the IRS, the data was all there, it imported into your FAFSA and basically you were done,” said Tessie Wilson of College Access Fairfax.

    But the link to the tool wasn’t removed, and applicants clicking on it are kicked out of the application and forced to start over again.

    Also, some applicants who have to fax the IRS a tax return request form were given the wrong numbers off the IRS website.

    “They are telling people if you don't hear from us, from the IRS in about 10 days to check back,” Wilson said. “I'm not quite sure what check back means since nobody over there is answering their phones.”

    And for the first time this year, FAFSA requires proof of non-filers, parents or students who did not file tax returns in 2015, for about 30 percent of students who were randomly chosen for more verification.

    “This story is really big for those students who most need the aid,” Wilson said.

    “What I read today is if you are a non-filer and you got non W2 wages, i.e. you did landscaping work, you need a written statement from the person that paid you that they paid you,” Wilson said.

    Those who filled out FAFSA prior to the removal of the data retrieval tool should be fine.

    Those chosen to prove they were non-filers should make sure the financial aid office received their documents, including current college students applying for FAFSA. Financial aid packages for those who weren’t selected for further verification won’t be affected.

    Unless you are constantly checking your financial aid status, you may not know that you are missing important information.

    The IRS said it is working to resolve the issue with the data retrieval tool as quickly as possible but admits it could be weeks before it's back online. The fax numbers are now correct on its website.

    IRS and FSA Statement‎ on Data Retrieval Tool:

    The IRS Data Retrieval Tool on fafsa.gov and StudentLoans.gov is currently unavailable. We are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. However, at this time, the IRS anticipates the online data tool will be unavailable for several weeks.

    This does not limit families’ ability to apply for aid. Applicants have other options while the data tool is unavailable. Applicants filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and applying for an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan can manually provide the requested financial information from copies of their tax returns. The online FAFSA and IDR application remain operational, and applicants can continue filing the FAFSA or applying for an IDR plan as they normally would.

    As part of a wider, ongoing effort at the IRS to protect the security of data, the IRS decided to temporarily suspend the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) as a precautionary step following concerns that information from the tool could potentially be misused by identity thieves. The scope of the issue is being explored, and the IRS and FSA are jointly investigating the issue. At this point, we believe the issue is relatively isolated, and no additional action is needed by taxpayers or people using these applications. The IRS and FSA are actively working on a way to further strengthen the security of information provided by the DRT. We will provide additional information when we have a specific timeframe for returning the DRT or other details to share.

    Additional information for applicants:

    The DRT provides tax data that automatically fills in information for part of the FAFSA as well as the IDR plan application.

    The online FAFSA and IDR application remain operational. You can continue filing the FAFSA or applying for an IDR plan as you normally would.

    The income information needed to complete the FAFSA and apply for an IDR plan can be found on your tax return. If you did not retain a copy of your tax return, you may be able to access the tax software you used to prepare your return or contact your tax preparer to obtain a copy.

    If you are unable to get a copy of your tax return, you may visit www.irs.gov/transcript to view and download a summary of your tax return, called a tax transcript, at Get Transcript Online. You must verify your identity to use this tool. You also may use Get Transcript by Mail or call 1-800-908-9946, and a transcript will be delivered to your address of record within five to 10 days.

    For more information on or for help with:

    Find more FAFSA help here.